11 Craft Distilleries Close to Home
Get an Uber and take a little hop around the DMV for some tastings.
We do love our boutique wineries and craft microbreweries. Lately the small-batch trend has expanded to spirits, giving rise to craft distilleries harking back to those romantic days of Prohibition when resourceful bootleggers got creative with whatever local ingredients they had on hand. Partial to the hard stuff? Here are 11 modern-day enterprises making fine spirits right in our own backyard. Check their websites and social media feeds for intel about hours of operation, tours and what’s in the works.
Rum is the name of the game at this year-and-a-half-old, industrial-looking spot across the street from D.C.’s bustling Union Market in Northeast. The brainchild of two former aerospace and NASA strategists, the operation turns out a daiquiri-ready white rum, a dry spiced rum and an Allspice Dram, another tiki specialty. Next up: Mellow Gold, which will be vapor infused with American oak and aged in bourbon barrels. Even if you’re not touring, it’s worth stopping by just to sit at the ample, multi-sided bar and dive into some of the city’s best unfussy cocktails, to say nothing of the yacht rock playlists that often crop up on the stereo. –J.D.
1330 Fifth St. NE, Washington, D.C.
Set in a series of converted row houses along a prime section of U Street, this may be the city’s most ambitious spirits operation, in that it includes not only a full distillery, but a multiroom bar and restaurant that serves seven days a week. It’s certainly the most mysterious—many of its partners still haven’t revealed themselves, except to say they’re siblings and spouses. One who has: Molly Cummings, a professor of biology at the University of Texas, who forages wild juniper in West Texas for the distillery’s gins. They also make a rum and a vodka on site, and source whiskey for their bourbon and rye. Insider tip: Ask for a taste of the small batch “Embassy Row” releases, which have included a creme de menthe and a grappa. –J.D.
1414-1418 U St. NW, Washington, D.C.
You won’t see any gleaming copper stills in this tiny Northwest D.C. facility; just dozens of tubs and barrels containing a witch’s brew of secret ingredients macerating in alcohol. Don’t let the spare look of things fool you: This is where Francesco Amodeo creates arguably some of the most interesting liqueurs in America. The Amalfi Coast native turns out amaros, bitter orange apertivos, limoncello and even a new rhubarb apertivo—many derived from family recipes dating to the late 1800s. They’re all intended to play well in cocktails, so he mixes up a few from a makeshift bar every Saturday. –J.D.
6031 Kansas Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.
Falls Church’s first entry into boutique spirits is a family affair: Michael Paluzzi, an Air Force veteran and former sales executive in the tech sector, started the business with his son Lorenzo, a trained chemist. When they opened last year, in addition to the expected vodka and bourbon, they also threw pepper vodka and lemon verbena gin into the mix. On deck for 2018 are a barrel-aged rum and an apple brandy aged in Virginia red-wine barrels. If your friends aren’t all in the spirit for spirits, not to worry: The distillery also serves beer, wine and an Italian menu. –J.D.
442 S. Washington St., Falls Church
For their latest concept, the team behind the Founding Farmers restaurant empire took the huge dining rooms (and huge menus) for which they’re known and grafted on a distilling operation in the back. If you don’t make the Saturday tours, you can always get tastes of their vodka, gin and two whiskeys at the bar, along with dozens of cocktail variations. In development for future release: a London-style dry gin, a bitter fernet and a special batch of their signature amaro, made with honey from a rooftop apiary at George Washington University. –J.D.
600 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C.
During its heyday in the late 1700s, the distillery on the grounds of Mount Vernon—reconstructed on its original site 10 years ago by archaeologists and preservationists—was one of the largest in the nation. Now, it’s not even the largest in the DMV. Yet while it produces comparatively little whiskey, it’s unquestionably the most interesting, as it still utilizes 18th-century methods of whiskey making, like heating the stills over open flame. Admission is included in general admission to Mount Vernon. When you’ve finished your tour, head to the gift shop to pick up a bottle of house-made rye, apple brandy or peach eau de vie. –J.D.
5514 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Alexandria
In 2015, Jimmy Turner, a descendant of the original Joseph Magnus, teamed up with some local and national spirits experts to relaunch the brand his forefather made famous in the late 1800s. Magnus was primarily a whiskey man, so that’s where the new team focused, tasting a 100-year-old bottle of Magnus, then going about the painstaking process of re-creating it. They’ve followed that up with several special releases, most aged in sherry, cognac and Armagnac casks. Don’t sleep on their gin, however: Noted gin expert Nicole Hassoun, who bartends in the distillery’s Murray Hill Club bar, also oversees both of Magnus’ gin expressions. –J.D.
2052 West Virginia Ave. NE, Washington, D.C.
Most local drinkers still know this outfit by the name of its flagship gin. And with good reason. In 2011, Green Hat Gin—named after the infamous Capitol Hill bootlegger—became the first (legally) made spirit in the District since Prohibition. Since then, partners Michael Lowe, a Navy submariner-turned-lawyer, and his son-in-law John Uselton, a restaurant vet, haven’t strayed far from gin, although they now produce season-specific versions, a Navy Strength (higher proof) and a Summer Cup, a local alternative to Pimm’s Cup. When you visit, don’t overlook the outstanding Capitoline vermouths, also produced here. –J.D.
1832 Fenwick St. NE, Washington, D.C.
Named for Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which provides for a federal district, this operation is the brainchild of an ex-attorney and an ex-biotech researcher. You’ll find well-made vodka and gin, but whiskey is their calling card. Rock Creek Whiskey is the first bourbon produced entirely in D.C. since Prohibition, but for something experimental, look to their “Untitled” series releases, which are sourced from elsewhere, then locally blended and aged in everything from cognac casks to coffee barrels. On Saturdays, the long, industrial-looking bar opens for tastings, flights and clever cocktails. –J.D.
1135 Okie St. NE, Washington, D.C.
Pia Carusone, one of Republic’s two co-founders, is a veteran of Democratic politics. No wonder, then, that the 2-year-old, crowdfunded distillery’s flagship rye is called Rodham, in deference not only to the former New York senator of the same name, but also to the Hudson Valley spring water that goes into it. You can take a seat at the bar and get a taste, along with Borough Bourbon and Civic Vodka. Or better yet, let the mixologists stir you up a drink. Look for Republic’s spirits to be on a lot more shelves in Virginia in 2018. –J.D.
1369 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C.
Blink and you might miss this microdistillery that’s been operating out of an industrial strip in Rockville since 2014. Inside, you’ll find Edgardo Zuniga, a former chef originally from Costa Rica, running the stills and filling the bottles. As the founder of the first licensed distillery in Montgomery County since Prohibition, Zuniga originally set out to reclaim some of Maryland’s distilling history, primarily in the form of rye and rum. Now, he’s expanded to vodka, bourbon, even coffee liqueur and apple-cinnamon whiskey. Expect more bourbon releases this year, all made from 100 percent Free State grain. –J.D.
711 E. Gude Drive, Rockville, Maryland